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“That just about does it,” Mark commented as he tossed the remaining chunk of fish into the basket.”
“How many does that make?” Peter queried.
“That’s twelve according to my count,” Mark replied, “if you include the ones containing the fish.”
“I still don’t believe it!” Thomas marveled, echoing the sentiment of the group, “five thousand people, and every one was satisfied”.
It had been a long day, and they were tired. The prospect of a good night’s rest certainly sounded appealing, as they handed the last basket of fragments to the aging couple. Mark grinned at them, silently wishing them ‘Happy Eating’, knowing that they would put the windfall of extra food to good use. They turned to see Jesus coddling a four year-old girl before handing her back to her waiting mother, the last in a long line of people that had lingered behind to be ministered to by the Master before wearily returning to the village.
“Are we ready?” Jesus asked, returning His attention to the now idle clean-up crew.
“’Ready as You are!” Peter spoke for the group, “next stop – Capernaum?” he raised one eyebrow, awaiting confirmation from the Master.
“Why don’t you guys go ahead,” the Master suggested, “I need to spend some time in prayer.” He gestured toward the mountain where he often went to find a moment of solitude. The group nodded knowingly, and proceeded to make ready for the short trip across the lake to their stated destination. It wasn’t the first time, especially after a miraculous event, that He would withdraw from everything for a while to find renewed vigor in a time of prayer. They watched until He was out of sight, headed for His favorite place of solitude.
The sun had set, the evening breeze was drifting across the shore, and still the disciples waited. Had He meant for them to wait for Him? Was He going another way so that He would meet them on the other side? Now they were unsure of His initial intention, but they determined to wait a little longer just to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.
“If we don’t go now, it will soon be too dark to navigate,” Peter gave voice to the thought that was on their minds. They had already delayed their departure, and Jesus had definitely indicated that they must be in Capernaum by soon after dawn tomorrow morning. Pushing the shallow boat into the water, they climbed over the side and Peter began to hoist the small sail in readiness for the journey. He noted that the oars were on the floor of the boat in the event that the lack of wind might necessitate their use, but it wasn’t long before the gentle breeze filled the sail. They settled back for an uneventful crossing, each with his own memories of the many times they had done this before. Formerly, the object of the exercise was to fill their nets with the fish that swarmed in the lake, but lately, they had made a practice of leaving their nets on the shore. No, they hadn’t been fishing for some time, their lives seemed to have taken a different turn – for the better. Since they had become followers of Jesus of Nazareth, there had been little opportunity to engage in their former occupation. Peter could still vividly recall the morning that he had been mending the broken nets on the shore when the Stranger came with His simple command – “Follow Me!” Something about his personality had been so intriguing and so compelling that Peter had been unable to remain with the boat.
A gust of wind whipped the shawl of his cloak against his ear, and Peter shuddered as his thoughts were interrupted. He had been so busy in his reverie that he had failed to notice how the breeze had increased. He glanced over at John and noticed that he had also been aroused in the stiff breeze. John was looking at the clouds now that could be seen gathering in the moonlight. So, there would probably be a storm to weather before they reached their destination, but, no matter, they had survived countless storms in their career. The waves began to splash against the bow of the boat, and the sail billowed noticeably in the increasing wind.
The wind blew across the side of the boat, now, causing the sail to whip around. John lowered the sail hastily, and ducked as the short spar narrowly missed his head. Reaching for the oars, he handed one to Peter, and, as their eyes met, they simultaneously realized that this would not be just another uneventful crossing. Each member of the crew was now reaching for his fishermen’s cloak in an effort to insulate himself against the chill of the increasing wind. The small craft rose and fell with each wave, bouncing like a cork in a bowl of water. The wind had shifted again, until now they were having to row the boat directly into it’s course.
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen a squall like this,” Andrew gasped, as he strained against the pull of the oar. As if in reply, the boat rose on the crest of a four-foot wave, before dropping down into a trough. The pull of gravity caused each of them to scramble for something to hold, until the jarring at the bottom of the trough made their stomachs churn. “No more fish sandwiches for me for a while!” he pledged, to no one in particular.
It seemed to have been hours, and countless miles. As they strained against the oars, each one felt that they were no nearer to their destination. They had traded positions at the oars a few times now in order to conserve each other’s strength. Wave after wave crashed against the side of the boat, until Peter wondered how much more the craft would be able to handle. As they rose to the crest of the next swell, he endeavored to see how much further it was to the shore. Unable to discern the shoreline, he waited for the next wave. This time he thought he saw something, but they fell into the next trough before he could determine what it was. As the boat rose on the third wave now his heart lurched, and a terrified cry stuck in his throat. John caught his eye, and turned to follow his line of vision as the boat crested once more –yes! He saw it too! Something else was riding the waves not far from them, but it was definitely not another boat. All eyes now turned to catch a glimpse of the source of the terror that filled the eyes of Peter and John. It looked like the form of a man – but it couldn’t be! Instead of fighting to stay afloat the churning waves, whatever it was seemed to be standing – even walking on top of the churning waters.
“It’s a ghost!” Thomas shouted in horror against the wind.
“What shall we do?!” others screamed.
“Don’t be afraid”, the calm voice of Jesus could be heard above the wind, “it’s only Me.”
“Jesus?!” the cry of relief caught in their throats as a startled question.
In the excited moment of revelation Peter’s mouth gave voice to the cry of his spirit. “Lord, if it is you,” he murmured cynically, ‘tell me to join You”.
Before the boat fell in the next trough of water, each of them heard the distinct voice of the Master respond with a simple “Come!”
Though they all heard the command, Peter was the only one who knew it’s meaning. He had committed himself now, what else could he do? Dropping his oar, and shedding his cloak, the others watched in horror as Peter threw himself into the raging sea. What was he doing? Had he gone mad? Had the stress of the night’s events broken down his mental stability? Thomas scrambled to find a rope to throw to his obviously demented friend, but before he could make a loop out of the nearest end of the rope, a cheer broke from the mouths of the rest of the crew. Startled, Thomas raised his eyes in time to see Peter, gingerly trying to keep his balance atop an oncoming wave, as the Master beckoned encouragingly.
“I’m going to do this!” Peter thought as he put another foot forward in obedience to the calm, encouraging voice of the Master. “Tell me this isn’t a dream!” He looked back at the disbelief on the faces of his comrades in the boat. He was closer to Jesus now than he was to them, and there was still some distance to go to reach the outstretched arms of his Lord. Another swell caused him to rise once more, but as he sank into the trough, he could no longer see the encouraging look on Jesus’ face. As he rose with the next wave, all he could see was the white crest racing in his direction. Suddenly, the thrilling adventure became a terrifying nightmare.
“What am I doing?” the horrific thought flashed across his mind, “this is sheer madness!” He could no longer hear the reassuring voice of the Master above the howling wind - was He still there?! Peter’s feet were submerged in the roiling waters, and he could feel the waters creeping above his knees. Time seemed to be suspended in the manner of a nightmare as a scream caught in his throat.
“Lord! Save me!” came the cry of his basic instinct for survival. Another wave was rolling in his direction as he strained to reach the outstretched hand of the Master. Just before the crest washed over his exhausted body, Peter felt the firm grip of Jesus take hold of his wrist. Instinctively, his own hand wrapped around Jesus’ wrist in a desperate move of self-preservation.
Slowly, the realization came to Peter that he had been rescued from certain drowning, as he heard the gentle voice of the master chiding – “What happened to your faith, Peter? Why did you doubt?”
Peter was totally lost for words, suddenly anything that came to mind seemed so futile. He heard himself mumble “Thank-you Lord!” but, realizing the significance of the preceding moments, even that statement seemed so feeble. As they crawled back into the boat, Peter realized that the winds had ceased, and the lake was once again calm as glass. He sat with his back to the bow of the boat, leaning his head back on his shoulders in a gesture of relaxation. He heard the bottom of the boat scrape firmly on the pebbles of the beach. “How could they have reached the shore so quickly?” – the thought was buried in a wave of relief that washed over him. People were approaching, even before they had dragged the boat onto the shore.
“There He is!” an excited voice cried, indicating that they had been expected.
“But how did He get here?” someone asked, “He didn’t leave with the boat!”
The question remained unanswered as a distraught mother knelt before Jesus, imploring Him to touch her fevered child.
Another day, another five thousand people fed! It was certainly a momentous occasion, the disciples knew that they had once again witnessed the power of God at work in their lives. Not only were the multitudes completely satisfied, but also there were twelve additional baskets of left-overs, reminding us of the bountiful blessings that God has in store for us. As well as meeting our basic need, God desires to bless us with an abundance that we will not be able to contain.
As was often the case in His ministry, Jesus felt called to spend some time in prayer following such a display of God’s miraculous power. In order to effect that, He sent the disciples ahead of him, agreeing to meet them at their destination. It seemed a small order, considering their previous experience with sailing, but, as it happened, they found that they were totally unprepared for the events that awaited them. It wasn’t long before they engulfed in the middle of another storm – so severe that it threatened their very existence. Perhaps we can remember experiences in which we found ourselves in the threatening confines of our surroundings as the disciples did that night. It may not have been a fisherman’s boat in the middle of Lake Genesseret, but it was likely a situation with which, based on our past experience, we felt totally comfortable – until the unexpected happened. Suddenly, the winds of circumstance began to blow with such force that we feared that our lives would soon be turned upside down. In a situation that we believed we were so capable of handling, we quickly realized that we were living far outside our area of expertise. Then, at the moment of our greatest peril, Jesus makes Himself available to us. In His everlasting love for us, He appears at the moment of our greatest need.
Though it took some time for the disciples to recognize whom they were seeing, at the dawning of their realization, all fears were set aside. Because of His proximity, they could hope for their salvation from the circumstance. “It is the Lord!” – the statement brought peace and comfort to the weary fishermen. Now they knew that they were safe from any consequences of the impending storm. This was the one that they had witnessed commanding the winds and the waves to “Be still!”. What He had accomplished previously, they were confident that He could repeat.
The degree of confidence was demonstrated in Peter’s request – Lord, tell me to come to you! In retrospect, we might ask – why such a radical, seemingly reckless proposal? Whatever the reason may have been, it was certainly agreeable to the Lord. The scenario that developed is one that has often been exposited as the epitome of lacking faith. Before we become too critical of Peter, however, we would do well to remember that there were others in the boat that night who never considered stepping over the side of the boat. Peter’s desire to stand where his Lord stood, to do the things that his Lord did, should be an example to us in our Christian experience. We will never know the thrill of following in His footsteps, if we never dare to leave the comfortable safety of the boat.
As long as he kept his eyes trained on the Lord, Peter did remarkably well for his first experience with surfing. As is often the case, however, there came that moment when the roar of the surrounding tempest drew his attention away from the focal point of his faith. When we cease to keep our focus on the One who has called us, the fear of the encompassing storm of life overwhelms us, to the place that we find ourselves sinking into it’s depths. As Peter experienced, in such circumstances, help is only one call away. It doesn’t need to be profound, it doesn’t need to be well-prepared. A simple, desperate, “Help me Lord!” is all it takes. Gently, but firmly, we feel His grasp enveloping our life, and confidence is birthed in the midst of the raging seas of circumstance.
“Where is your faith –why did you doubt?” It is a gentle rebuke that should give us impetus to learn from the experience, knowing that His saving hand is only one desperate call away.
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